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Naomi Osaka of Japan returns the ball to Jessica Pegula of the United States during their match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. Osaka lost against Pegula 7-6, 6-2. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Blackout or back out

Naomi Osaka will not speak to the media at the upcoming French Open because of mental health concerns.

Hmmmmmm.

Osaka said in a social media post, among other things, "that people have no regard for athletes mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one."

Wow. OK. Where do we start?
We'll start here: I am biased. I used to make my living in the ever-shrinking arena of whatever access the athletes and coaches deemed worthy of us ink-stained wretches. Still make my living in that forum, but it's beyond sports and not as dependent on Coach Longshanks granting us the scraps from his interview table or some spoiled athlete deeming it not worth her time.

And it's a really easy time to pick a fight with the media and garner a whole lot of public support in that stance, whether you realize the number of jobs inside and outside of women's tennis you could be threatening.

Yeah, I got more: What about the next generation of female tennis players, Naomi? You are arguably the biggest star in the sport not named Serena, and the sport is far better off because of Serena and Venus and the folks who endured the French Open guillotine of really challenging mental health queries like, "You're backhand looked really good today, have you been working on that?"

Oh the horror.

And what about your sport as a whole? You've made almost $18 million in prize money swinging a racket — and that's not counting endorsements — and used your platform to expand your bikini brand — that's not taxing to your mental health — and your social stances on justice and the like.

Here's her whole message:

"Hey everyone —

Hope you're all doing well, I'm writing this to say I'm not going to do any press during Roland Garros. I've often felt that people have no regard for athletes mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one. We're often sat there and asked questions that we've been asked multiple times before or asked that bring doubt into our minds and I'm just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me. I've watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well. I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while they're down and I don't understand the reasoning behind it. Me not doing press is nothing personal to the tournament and a couple of journalists have interviewed me since I was young so I have a friendly relationship with most of them. However, if the organizations think that can just saying, "do press or you're gonna be fined", and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation, then I just gotta laugh. Anyways, I hope the considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity. xoxo (peace emoji, heart emoji)"

And beyond the ridiculous oxymorons here — athlete (and her game) reaching super heights of fame and popularity because of exposure and then blaming said exposure for mental health fatigue; athletes who demand mental strength of themselves in every moment being unnerved by a repeated question; I could go on — there are very serious sports-specific and news-specific angles.

First, if this takes, Osaka just killed the postgame presser. If players follow — especially players with unions — and then the players make the teams bend the knee which forces the leagues to realize that if they are going to charge for broadcast rights, why not charge for postgame interview rights, or make them part of the TV broadcast contract, for a sizable uncharge of course?

Plus, with huge platforms, athletes have already started taking their messages directly to the masses. This will add several tons of wood to that fire.

Second, how detrimental is any public figure saying they will no long do news conferences and insinuating that only their chosen media folks — "a couple of journalists have interviewed me since I was young so I have a friendly relationship with most of them" — are deemed worthy of an audience.

Know this for my dollar, time and interest: If women tennis allows Naomi Osaka this stance, I will never watch it or discuss it ever again. Her stance and her crock of poo allegations, whether she knows it or not, presents a very real threat to the ways a lot of other people — in and outside her sport — make their living.     

 

Fanning the flame

OK, we all knew it.

We knew it because of the glaring void.

We knew it because of the dwindling TV numbers.

We knew it because we couldn't go and, when it was a big event, we really didn't want to go anyway.

Among the many things that the pandemic took away was more than a year of sports enjoyment.

Sure there were sports, but those were exercises in cashing checks. Games in bubbles, rounds without galleries, kickoffs with the crazies.

But, the sacrifices and sadness that came with the awfulness of the pandemic also brought the reminders of the great things, things that were taken for granted until their absence made our hearts grow fonder.

And when they returned, as the chants and the crowd shots and the cheers have roared back into our arenas, stadiums and TV sets, oh boy is it great.

Sweet buckets of popcorn and pitchers of beer it is great to have fans back in the stands.

It was great to hear Madison Square Garden hate an opponent just because he was wearing a different jersey. And when they started chanting, "Trae is balding — clap-clap, clap-clap-clap" well, all was right with the world.

It was great to see the gallery bring the human-level of magnitude of what Lefty's sixth major meant on Sunday at Kiawah.  

The fans being back is the straw that stirs the drink for sports being back, and sports being back points me square in the direction that we're on our way back.

(Yes, vaccine, mask if you want, you know the drill.)

But welcome back fans — and sports — God I missed you.
 
 

Another day, another yearbook controversy

So after we discussed Wednesday the over-editing of the photographs in a Florida yearbook, there comes another yearbook yelling exercise from Arkansas.

This one involves some falsified history that was politically charged about former President Donald Trump and the Black Lives Matter movement.

So at the comically ironically named Lincoln Junior High, the yearbook states that Donald Trump was not impeached and the racial protests that frequently turned to riots last summer were "Black Lives Matter riots."

Curious what the group thinks here, because I really only see one of two possible options.

First option is this was a coordinated effort by adults — be them staff or part of the printing process — to make a concerted political statement and influence future Trumpers on the monster platform that is the Lincoln Junior High yearbook.

I guess that's plausible these days. Anything is.

The other is the work of juveniles, which seems way more likely. And in that pursuit, the intent matters.

If this was done by kids in the Junior White Right or with family connections to hate groups, then OK. Then let's raise the bayonets and find the culprits.

If this was done by sloppy editing or faulty education, well, that has to be considered as well? The two most outrageous phrases — and remember these are middle schoolers — were "President Trump WAS NOT impeached" and "Black Lives Matter riots Started in Minneapolis in may of 2020."

Maybe the teachers at Lincoln are doing a pee-poor job. Maybe it's even a calculated mis-education plan in both history and grammar, since the month of May was not capitalized in the controversial clips of the yearbook.

But the layers of details here are important. Trump was impeached. Just like Clinton was. But neither was removed from office for being impeached. A couple of added words (that could have possibly been removed for space depending on the layout or purposefully removed for impace) change that to "Black Live Matters led protests became riots Started in Minneapolis in may 2020."

Again, if there was direct intent of political propaganda and or malicious intent with these words, then there's a real issue that needs to be addressed.

Otherwise, when the mis-edited middle school yearbook hits the front page and the top window of Yahoo news and lands in a major British daily publication like The Guardian, well, we're really digging for anything to write or debate in terms of former President Trump, aren't we?

And this isn't even covering the very rare — and very common — explanation that a couple yuckster got in there and reworked some things at the 11th hour in an attempt to get a rise out of folks. And the best way to get a rise out of folks these days?

Trump and/or BLM topics. I wonder if they tried to get a pandemic punchline in there somewhere, too.        

(Side story: We edited the Griffin Middle School yearbook. Changed Mrs. Kimbrough's name to Kiss-Bro. Inserted a cuss word — I think it was butt — into a photo caption and tried to get the word condom in the text but somehow spelled it condemn — which screams a great deal about our social advancement before high school, no — so our big punchline made absolutely no sense. We thought it was hilarious. We did not think detention was that much fun, however.)

 

This and that

— Expanded yearbook conversation: I have learned some more details about the Florida yearbook photo editing. First, that one teacher made this decision on her own — whether you agree or disagree with the overarching conversation, is very troublesome. To make that kind of decision without some sort of sign-off — regardless of what type of precursor you put on the yearbook's website — is at best stupid and to put your individual morality on something as public as a public school arguably fireable. That it was only done to girls is also very troublesome from this yearbook sponsor. That said, why the USA Today story felt the need to point out the school's past in terms of transgender students seemed gratutious and headline-hunting. And, the use of the national talking point of "There are group photos in the yearbook that include the boys' swim team wearing nothing but bandage-sized briefs" is pointless without context. Is there a photo of the wrestling team, the girls' swim team, the volleyball team, because all of those athletic uniforms — rightly or wrongly — leave very little to the imagination.    

— Ton of great Spring Fling coverage across the TFP platforms with multiple state title winners and a monster day for Baylor's nationally ranked baseball team. Good stuff, and too many to link, even with the rules.

— I had a whole bunch written on Brooks vs. Bryson vs. Brady, but you guys and gals hit me with some interesting questions for tomorrow about it. That said, the social media back and forth is generating buzz that the recently announced next installment of The Match — Brady and Mickelson vs. Aaron Rodgers and Bryson DeChambeau — could never have possibly generated. And if they get Brooks Koepka to fill JT's on-course analyst role? Monster ratings.

— Wow, they found a noose at a Connecticut construction site for a new Amazon complex. And that's not the biggest news item. It was the eighth noose they have found in the last month. Side question: How are we just finding out about this? Where's Dick Van Patton, because Eight is Enough.

— The Athletic is reporting that former Notre Dame High School star and UTC defensive back Kareem Orr has signed with the L.A. Rams. Look out Jalen Ramsey.

— Wednesday we mentioned the great Big Ed Walsh and his flash of superstardom in the early 1900s. Well, not to go too Spy or Chas and yell for you punk kids to get off my lawn, but did you see the name Ray Caldwell trending. As pitchers miss games for video-game blisters or punching benches in frustration, ol' Ray was pitching for the Indians on Aug. 24, 1919 and was struck by lightning during the game. That's not the craziest part. He pitched a no-hitter 17 days later. That's not the craziest part. Turns out, ol' Ray was pitching with two outs and the Indians holding a 2-1 lead when he was struck on Aug. 24, knocked unconscious and revived on the mound. When he regained consciousness, he took the ball and got Joe Dugan to ground out to end the game. Greatest save in baseball history? Both of them.  

 

Today's questions

Which way on a Thursday, which team says no if a Ja Morant for Trae Young trade is put on the table?

True or false on a Thursday, Naomi Osaka should do press conferences at the French Open.

True or false on a Thursday, Naomi Osaka will do press conferences at the French Open.

True or false, ESPN should/will blast Osaka for her stance.

Happy 40th to my brother-in-law. Salute.

Elsewhere on this day, let's review.

On this day 88 years ago Disney's "3 Little Pigs" was released.

Pat Cash is 55 today. Have we done a Rushmore of people with money in their name?

Let's do that and remember the mailbag.

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